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Second Edition > Mublag h a

Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition

Mublag h a
(1,527 words)

(A.), verbal noun of the form III verb blag h a ( f ), with the two related meanings of to do the
utmost [in s.th.] and to overdo [s.th.]), technical term in (a) grammar (intensiveness) and
(b) literary theory (emphasis and, more particularly, hyperbole).
(a) In grammar. Already in Sbawayh, the term mublag h a is used to denote the intensive
meaning of a number of morphemes and syntagmas (see G. Troupeau, Lexique-index du Kitb
de Sbawayhi , Paris 1976, 41). Most consistently it is henceforth applied to the intensive
participles of the forms fal , fal , etc. Al-Sid ji lms (wrote ca. 704/1304) enumerates no less
than 21 patterns for them under the general heading adl , the term referring to nouns that are
diverged ( madl ) from the active participle ( Manza , 272-3). When used for Gods
attributes, these forms are, according to some, not intensive per se, but refer to the multiplicity
of their objects, while others consider their form to be non-literal ( mad j z ), according to alTahnaw ( Kash sh f iilt al-funn , ed. A. Sprenger, Calcutta 1862, i, 140).
(b) In literary theory. Although in the classical system of ilm al-balg h a the term mublag h a
did come to mean hyperbole, earlier theorists often protest against this narrow use and
maintain that it means emphasis, strengthening, heightening in general, thus comprising
hyperbole as one of its subcategories. At the outset the situation is, however, rather
confusing: the earliest writers do not use the term mublag h a at all, though they are quite
aware of the existence of hyperbole, which they call by various names (T h alab [d. 291/904]:
al-ifr fi l-ig h r [ awid , 49], Ibn al-Mutazz [d. 296/908]: al-ifr fi l-ifa [ Bad , 65], Ibn
abab [d. 322/934]: al-abyt allat ag h raa iluh f manh [ Iyr , 76]). udma (d.

337/948) introduces the term mublag h a, though not in the sense of hyperbole, for which he
uses g h ulw , but to denote a very specialised type of emphasising ( g h l with later authors)
in which a poetic idea is rounded out by a pertinent little exaggeration at the end of the line (
Nad , 77). He does, however, use mublag h a also in an untechnical way to describe the
mechanism of g h ulw: the intention of hyperbole is emphasis and image-forming ( tamth l ,
not the [literal] truth of a thing (Nad, 31, cf. also 27). Starting here, the hyperbole idea
gradually spills over into mublag h a, although a man like Ibn Rash (d. 456/1063 or later) still
defends the old meaning: those who reject hyperbole because of the untruth it entails mean
g h ulw rather than mublag h a, because, he says, if all mublag h a were worthless and
blameworthy, even simile would be worthless and metaphor would be blameworthy as well as
the other beauties ( Umda , ii, 85); obviously, all these figures serve to emphasise the poetic
ideas to which they are applied. In Ibn Rash we also find the first systematic ordering of
terms: mublag h a, now more narrowly understood as intensification, comprises
subcategories, such as taa (going to the limit), tarduf al-ift (piling of descriptions one
over the other), and g h ulw. The enumeration is somewhat haphazard and probably not
meant to be exhaustive. With the classical system of al-K h ab al-azwn (d. 739/1338), logical
stringency is achieved: mublag h a is defined as claiming that a certain quality, in intensity or
weakness, attains an unthinkable or improbable degree, and it is subdivided, in accordance
with the philosophical distinctions mumkinmumtani-mustal , possible-impossibleunthinkable, into tablg h , ig h r , and g h ulw, of which the second is possible in the mind,
but not according to everyday experience, while the first and third are possible in both or
neither, respectively ( , 514-16, Talkh , 370-1). This is the system represented in the
nineteenth-century Western handbooks still in use (see Rckert, Mehren and Garcin de Tassy),
which are based on al-azwn and later Arabic and Persian works.
Due to the inherent absurdity ( ila ) of many hyperboles, g h ulw became a matter of dispute
within the larger framework of untruth ( kad h ib ) in poetry. udma testifies to the existence
of this literary feud in his time and opts for the permissibility of hyperbole by applying to it
the adage asanu l-sh iri akd h abuh (Nad, 34-8). Others differ, and a sort of compromise
emerges by postulating that a given hyperbole must survive the kda test to be acceptable
(thus already udma, Nad, 133, cf. Ab Hill al-Askar, inatayn , 375, Ibn Rash , Umda, ii,
65), i.e., the hyperbole in question must admit of being rewritten with an explicit form of the
verb kda to be close to [doing s.th.] or some word to the same effect. There is no question
that hyperboles were of great importance in mudath poetry and in its Persian and Persianate
successors, and the critics, even when averse to lies in poetry, had to come to terms with
them. A conservative authority anonymously quoted by Ibn Rath says: If poetry were
[identical with] hyperbole (mublag h a) [apparently some went so far as to allege this], the
sedentary people and the Moderns would be better poets than the Ancients (Umda, ii, 84).
Others used the typical legitimising procedure of saying that the (or some) Moderns followed

the Ancients in this respect (Ibn abab, Iyr, 81, al- al-D jurd j n, Wasa , 420-3). In
any case, the idea that hyperbole was of the essence in traditional Islamic poetry became so
engrained that in our time the Turkish poet Orhan Veli, in a poem critical of the old Dwn
poetry, referred to the latter as mbala sanat the art of hyperbole ( Btn iirleri , Istanbul
1966, 80).

Bibliography
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al-K h ab al-azwn, al-, ed. Mu. Abd al-Munim K h afd j , 3rd impr., [Beirut] 1391/1971,
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idem, al-Talkh , ed. Abd al-Ramn al-Bar, n.p., n.d., 370-4
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Nad jm
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(W. Heinrichs)
Cite this page
Heinrichs, W.P., Mublag h a, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P.
Heinrichs. Consulted online on 06 January 2017 <http://dx.doi.org.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_0770>
First published online: 2012
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004161214, 1960-2007